Eurogamer Expo preview: Nintendo’s premier franchise finally enters the HD era with NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U, but with 2D Mario games ten-a-penny recently, does this Wii U outing do enough to merit your consideration? We went hands-on with the game to find out.
I like to pretend that I’m not a graphics whore, that I’m above being impressed by such superficialities, but, well, I’d be lying. I’m the guy who marvelled at my TV screen when the first Gears of War hit, who piled graphical upgrade mods onto Oblivion until they brought my PC to its knees, who whopped every setting in Battlefield 3‘s visual options to Stupidly High, then stood in the middle of a field going “ooohh” while the battle raged about me at a single digit framerate. I like shiny.
Talking about graphical whoring while discussing a 2D platformer – by Nintendo of all people – may seem a touch odd, but it’s the glossy HD-ness of New Super Mario Bros. U that is the game’s defining characteristic. The underlying game design remains, bar the odd tweak here and there, unchanged from the previous entries in Nintendo’s revitalised sidescrolling series, but the increase in resolution and sheer oomph of the Wii U breathe new life into even the most familiar of Mario tropes.
All the fundamentals of the Super Mario Bros. visual language remain in place. The Goombas, the Koopas, the verdant grass, ravenous Piranha Plants, the green pipework, and tilting platforms: all benefit from the new makeover. Even the bricks – the bricks, for chris’sake – suddenly look anew, sharply defined chunkiness that explode into splinters to reveal the glistening golden metal beneath when you give them the classic Mario headbutt as you pass.
The game’s first three worlds were on show at the Eurogamer Expo, and exploring each was a symphony for the eyes. The opener Acorn Plains is, as is traditional in Mario titles, a pastoral woodland bedecked with shrubs and flowers, while in the distance harshly slanted mountains lie cloaked by clouds. But it’s the second world, Layer Cake Desert, that ups the eye candy, fusing together the sandy deserts that were a standout in the original DS New Super Mario Bros. with platforms conjured from creamy ice cream and spongy cake. It’s like the Arabian Nights meets Hansel and Gretel. Frosted Glacier, the last of the three worlds that were playable, is equally beautiful, starlight reflecting off and refracted through its icy snowscape.
That familiar feeling
The reason I’m concentrating on the sumptuous visuals is because if you played New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, or the Wii, or the 3DS, then you know exactly what game you’re getting. That’s not in itself a bad thing: Miyamoto and his team created some form of gaming alchemy back in the 1980s that means it’s nigh-on impossible to make a bad 2D Mario game. But with them now coming out at such a regular rate, fatigue may well be an issue for some.
The tweaks to the formula are relatively minor. Super Mario World rather than Super Mario Bros. 3 is the core inspiration this time round, with New Super Mario Bros. U sporting a similar all-encompassing world map to the former, as well as the return of Baby Yoshis from the 1992 SNES classic. The magenta Balloon Baby Yoshis were on particular show in Acorn Plains, requiring holding the A button on the Wii Remote to grab one and then a vigourous shake of the motion controller to puff it out and use it to traverse the map. A similar new addition is the Flying Squirrel Suit, which enables the player to glide and grab on to walls, and the levels have plenty of hidden verticality in their design to take advantage of these new aerial routes.
The Wii U-centric innovations are the ability to play as your Mii in place of one of the Mario pantheon, and, of course, the inclusion of a fifth player in co-op using the GamePad’s touchscreen. After the thoughtful use of asymmetric gameplay in Rayman Legends, the GamePad features feel uninspired by comparison in New Super Mario Bros. U, with the touchscreen player able to stun enemies and conjure additional blocks onto the screen but little else. The potential for griefing your partners with the latter ability may add some spice to multiplayer sessions though.
The game’s HD beauty does come at a price once five players and a second screen are added to the mix. During our multiplayer play session, serious slowdown was evident in both framerate and scrolling, making platforming itself something of a lottery. As always, judgements shouldn’t be made on what amounts to preview code, but plenty of optimisation work will need to be done before the game’s launch, and it certainly will be knowing Nintendo’s scrupulous attention to detail.
It’s a Mario game, it’s a launch title for a new Nintendo console, and it’s in HD. Whether that’s enough will be entirely down to how exciting you find each of those three factors.
New Super Mario Bros. U, from Nintendo, will be released on November 18th in the US and the 30th in the UK for the Wii U.